Humanitarianism, National Security, and the Rohingya Refugee Policy of Bangladesh

A.S.M. Ali Ashraf is Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
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  • May 2021

    How do humanitarian norms and national security concerns shape a host state refugee policy? This article addresses this question in the context of Bangladesh, the largest host state in the world for Rohingya refugees. It argues that although the norms of humanitarian protection can explain why a host state would open its border to forced migrants and allow relief agencies access to the refugee camps, humanitarianism alone cannot explain the full gamut of a state’s refugee policy. Instead, a better and fuller account of the refugee policy would require understanding the national security concerns of the host state, and the process through which such concerns lead to restrictive policies. These competing theoretical explanations are tested in the context of the pre- and post-2017 Rohingya refugee influxes. Findings reveal how altruistic sentiments towards the Rohingya people have historically been overshadowed by denial of refugee status and restricted mobility in camp-based settlements, a recent relocation plan, and the search for repatriation to Myanmar as the most viable solution to the Rohingya refugee crisis.